Updated: National Outrage After Woman Is Made to Pay $700 for Hospital Appointment

A video of a woman having to pay nearly $700 to see a doctor went viral on Weibo in the last week of January, prompting outrage on Chinese social media. The news story underlines the obstacles that Chinese citizens face in accessing decent healthcare. But a week after the video went viral, netizens wonder if the woman from the famous video might be a fraud herself. 

The video of a woman outraged over being forced to pay 4500 yuan (nearly $700 US) made the headlines in China, sparking a national debate over patients getting scammed before they can see a doctor. Online commenters called for a reform of China’s medical system. Now, a week after the video was posted all over different social media platforms, netizens wonder if the woman in the video is a fraud who actually works for an online medical platform.

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It is is a familiar sight at hospitals all over Beijing: rows of people waiting in the long queue for a ticket to see the doctor, some with stools or equipped with duvets. But some of those waiting in line are not ordinary people in need of a hospital appointment. They are ticket scalpers (票贩子), who force average Chinese citizens to pay insanely high prices for the most basic healthcare.

Scammed by hospital scalpers 

To prevent disorder and cutting in line, most patients at Chinese hospitals need to purchase a ticket to decide when they’ll be seen for nonemergency treatment. However, this system is frequently abused as scalpers buy tickets and sell them for much higher prices to actual patients.

The problem of scalpers was brought to national attention on January 19th, when the video of the screaming woman, dressed in a white coat, went viral on Sina Weibo. Filmed by a patient at Beijing’s Guang’anmen Hospital, the video shows the distressed woman accusing hospital guards of working with scalpers to push up ticket prices. The video became trending on Chinese social media platforms in the last week of January.

Many Chinese people, especially those from the countryside, face the problem of hospital scalpers when seeking medical attention. Under China’s current medical system, it is not easy for people from rural areas to gain access to medical facilities in the major cities, as they are not covered there and will have to pay for medical care themselves. The issue is related to China’s hukou (household registration) system; the government-subsidised rural medical insurance is often not valid in a different province, which means that villagers who fall seriously ill are not covered when they travel to first-tier cities for medical care.

Scalpers take advantage of the system and people’s eagerness to see a doctor by using local identification cards to book appointments, and then selling them to people without the proper documentation.

The woman in the video says that a ticket that originally cost ¥300 (± $46) was now pushed up to a whopping ¥4500 ($684) by scalpers operating in the hospital. She tearfully laments: “My God, ordinary people need to pay so much for a ticket, it’s so hard! If I died on my way home, there’s no hope in this society. This is Beijing, the capital!” The woman also tells onlookers: “Yesterday all the scalpers arranged us to queue, they put all their hires at the front, we real patients didn’t dare say a word! Where were the security guards?”

The woman allegedly traveled hundreds of miles to get an appointment for her paralyzed mother. She rented a basement room in Beijing while waiting for the doctor’s appointment, and carried her mother on her back when traveling.

A national problem

Since the video’s upload on Weibo, it has been reposted nearly 120,000 times and ‘liked’ over 187,000 times. Comments relating to the topic received over 10 million views, igniting a national debate over scalpers at hospitals.

The debate was especially noticeable on social media, where netizens reflected on the woman’s outcry and talked about their own experience with scalpers. One Weibo commenter writes: “Today I went to the hospital after the news about scalpers. For the most ordinary citizens at the lowest level, with no power or position, seeing a doctor is really not easy.” Another netizen says: “Our capital is the Holy Land in the hearts of our people. The ruthless action of those ticket scalpers brings shame to the capital. I believe that the people of Beijing will remove this malignant tumor and reshape their good image.”

Faced with masses of social media outcry, Guang’anmen Hospital denied that it condoned the reselling of tickets. It stated that a preliminary investigation found no evidence of security guards colluding with scalpers to resell tickets. Beijing police, however, confirmed on January 28 that 12 people have been arrested in relation to this case.

Marketing for online medical company

On February 2, the woman in the video became trending again, but this time for a different reason. Chinese media report that the woman now receives lifelong free medical care for her mother, offered by medical company Yihu365 . Some people suspect that she is a staff member of this company, that offers medical care at home that can be ordered through an app. The company also has a service for making hospital appointments. Under the hashtag of ‘is she a fraud?’ (#挂号女是托#), netizens now discuss the possibility of the video being set up as a marketing campaign for Yihu365.

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“She is obviously not a fraud,” one Weibo user says: “The app just seized the opportunity for their own promotion.”

“I don’t believe this was staged,” one other netizen also comments: “It was probably just a good business opportunity for this company. But even if it was faked, what does it really matter? The hospital scalpers are real. They are everywhere.”

Thus far no official media have backed up the online allegations.

Staged or not, the general lack of regulation on hospital scalpers means they will continue to be a real obstacle to patients’ access to medical treatment. Having easy access to decent healthcare is a right of citizens throughout the world, but for ordinary people in Beijing, simply stepping their foot in the doctor’s office is a painstakingly expensive ordeal.

Some netizens point out to the importance of ordinary citizens standing up injustices in China’s health care: “If there are more people willing to speak out against such injustice in society, there will be less unfairness. If there are more people enacting justice, good can trump evil!”

By Anna Xue & updated by Manya Koetse

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